By Bryan Dietzler
The Chicago Bears have played four very close games over the past five weeks. They won their games against the Raiders and Chiefs but lost close games against the Lions and the Vikings. In their two loses, notable defensive breakdowns at the end of the game cost them the win. The opposing team was able drive down the field with seeming ease and get a tying score and then the go ahead score.
In the Lions game the Bears defense suffered. They kept on allowing the Lions to score points and were just lucky that the Bears offense was able to keep up. In their game against the Vikings, the defense was able to virtually shut down the opposing offense until close to the end of the game when the Vikings managed to come back and tie the game and then end up winning it on a last second field goal. The Bear’s defense clearly broke down at a critical point in the game and cost the Bears a win.
So why does the defense break down at critical points in the game despite the fact that they play well for most of it? Does it have something to with fatigue? Is the Bears defense so tired at the end of the game they aren’t able to perform and then the breakdown happens? That might have something to do with it. Or has the other team finally figured out the Bears defense and called the right plays to work against them and then they go forward and win the game? Both are possible.
What can help the Bears defense is a good offense. In the games that the Bears have lost by a close margin the offense has failed to control the ball and the clock at the end of the game. What this has done is forced the defense back onto the field late in the game when they are tired. The pass rush isn’t as effective and the secondary isn’t agile enough to handle the pressure given to them by the wide receivers and tight ends. There are breakdowns, which is exactly what has happened to Chicago and they end up giving up points in the end and, of course, they lose the game.
Chicago’s offense has to help the defense out at the end of games. Part of closing the game out is to be sure that the opposing offense doesn’t get the ball and that they don’t have a chance to score. The way to ensure that won’t happen is for the offense to get the ball at the end of the game and control it and the clock. If they can do that and keep the defense off the field the Bears will have much better results at the end of games.
One other thing that this is hurting the Bear’s defense is their lack of playmakers. The only real playmaker on that side of the ball, who has come through in the clutch at times is outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. You see it with his sacks and with his blocked field goal in the Chief’s game. McPhee is a real playmaker but he is, perhaps, the Bears only playmaker so far this season. No one else has really stepped up to make big plays. Sure you have players that have big hits and occasionally step up and have big plays but no one other than McPhee has really stood out in all of this. And the Bears need to have playmakers on defense in order to make things work.
There are some other factors that come into play with the Bears having struggles on defense. The pass rush has been less than stellar over the past few games and the defense needs to get to the opposing quarterback more often. They got some pressure on Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater but only got one sack on him. When it counted the most they weren’t able to contain Bridgewater and he went down the field for big plays that broke the Bears back. Pass pressure is a must for the Bears especially with the teams they have coming up on the schedule (such as San Diego and Denver) who like to pass the ball a lot.
The Bears are allowing some rushing yards but have been fairly good about not letting the running game beat them overall. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was able to gain just over 100 yards on them this past Sunday and that didn’t seem to break the Bears. What did break them was a suddenly resurgent Vikings passing game that had a ton of success in the final few minutes of the game. Had the Bears been able to stop the Vikings passing game in the waning moments of Sunday’s game they would have beat the Vikings.
Finally, one other critical point where things have appeared to break down often for the Bears on defense is their secondary. Now we mentioned that Chicago’s pass rush hasn’t been too consistent and that will hurt a secondary. But the Bears secondary has been faltering at critical points in games. The big catch by Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs was a clear indication of how the secondary has broken down in games at critical times. Either the Bears secondary needs to step up and play better or they need to find other athletes to perform at the positions in the secondary.
Overall, the Bears defense isn’t too bad. Sure they had a breakdown in the Lions game but they performed well against the Vikings up until the waning minutes of the game. This team needs more guys to step up and become playmakers and if they can’t get that then this defense is going to struggle for the rest of this season. They are a growing defense (as they have only been in this defensive system less than a full season) so there are bound to be some problems as they learn and grow but these mistakes can’t continue to happen if the Bears plan to win more games. Perhaps there will be greater improvement in year two of the defense.